So here are some tips that might, just maybe, keep you out of the undergrowth and on the straight and narrow the next time you drive in Italy.
Motorways; the key thing to remember when driving on an Italian motorway is; never EVER allow the gap between you and the car in front to become wide enough to squeeze another car into. Because if you do, the car behind – which will be traveling 4mm from your back bumper – will immediately undertake you and insert itself straight into that gap.
And at no time during this ambitious but highly skilled maneuver will the undertaking driver take his or her elbow off the window sill – because another key thing to remember about driving in Italy is that you must NEVER look like you actually care.
Towns; the single most important piece of equipment to use when driving in an Italian town is not the brake or the accelerator, nor even the steering wheel; it is the horn. Venturing into an Italian town without a working horn would be much like going out to bat without wearing pads, gloves or box – ie bound to end in tears.
The horn is not just used as a warning system in Italian towns, either. It’s also a method of encouragement, blown loudly at the car in front whenever a traffic light turns green, for example. Occasionally it can be used as a sign of approval, usually between males and females, although nowadays – and especially in Rome – you never can tell.
Country roads; this is probably the most challenging environment of all to get to grips with when driving in Italy. The only rule that anyone abides by on country roads is that there are no rules, capiche? In light of which, you must display the reflexes of a squirrel and the timing of a trapeze artist to avoid whatever doom might be coming your way.
Typical hazards that might be encountered on an Italian country road could range from ‘old man carrying box of chickens, standing in middle of the road’ to ‘Fiat Panda on roof’ to ‘mattress in road, swerve NOW.’
To the local expert, ie your average Italian driver, such hazards would present no problemo. But to the uninitiated, rounding a bend in your hired Punto to find what appears to be part of a light aircraft staring back at you, which has just burst out of the back of a rickety old tractor trailer not five minutes earlier, could be a wee bit disturbing.
The thing to do were such an event to occur would be to put your elbow on the window sill, blow the horn as loudly as possible, swap the look of horror on your face for one of calm nonchalance, and avoid the inevitable accident by displaying a rare, perhaps fluky level of wheelmanship – then close your eyes and pray nothing’s coming the other way.
Or stay in the UK for your summer holiday instead.